Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 11/11/11

Two Lords A-Lagging

I sometimes wonder how I manage to type the pieces in this section. After all, it's really difficult to type accurately with your fists clenched.

Such has been my response to two articles which have appeared on the BBC News website in recent days.

Now, there's a pretty well-established practice that the media in this country do not, as a rule, provide a platform for convicted criminals. It seems that the BBC - in keeping with its recent determination to betray whatever of its finest traditions of independence might stand between it and avoiding dismemberment at the hands of the froth-lipped ideologues at the heart of government - have decided that exceptions can always be made in certain circumstances.

How else can one explain the appearance - only two days apart - of what amount to puff pieces for two members of the House Of Nominees who are both out on licence from prison, having fiddled their expenses?

First up on Wednesday was this piece on 'Lord' Taylor of Warwick (Mr John Taylor as was), talking about his experiences in prison (which seem on the whole to have been rather jollier than the norm, especially the two months he spent in an open prison in Kent) after being done for diddling us out of over 11 000 over a period of years. Now out on an electronic tag - a boon denied to many prisoners who have done far less damage to society - Taylor says he wants to "inform the debate on prison reform", and is looking forward to speaking when he is allowed back into his former position of privilege and power in less than seven months' time.

I'm sorry, Mr Taylor; no-one is more interested in pushing the idea of major reform of the penal system than I am - as anyone who has read this site in recent months could testify - but I think that you are one of the least suitable people to do it, inasmuch as any involvement from you is likely to produce little more than further antagonism on the part of the public to the whole idea that our system is catastrophically useless; and it is the public who most need to be convinced on this issue, because it is the perceived pressure from them upon MPs which goads said politicians into the colonic spasms of vengeance which have characterised policy in this field for many years. If you must campaign on this issue - and I accept you have a right to do that, and I commend you for it - then please do so behind the scenes and at a practical level. And don't claim any expenses that you're not genuinely entitled to, please.

As antagonistic as I am to Taylor of Warwick (and what do the people of Warwick feel about having a bent lord named after their town? Not that it matters; peerage means never having a say - sorry), it is as nothing to my thoughts on his fellow jailbird, the so-called Lord Hanningfield.

For, two days after Taylor's free shot, comes this piece on Paul White - the aforementioned 'Lord' - who was done for fiddling an even higher sum than Taylor and who spent no more than a handful of weeks locked up - in the same 'open' prison as Taylor.

Unlike Taylor - who seems to have shown something approaching a state of mild contrition - White spent much of his interview with a hackette on the Broadcorpsing Castration's Radio 5Live (yes, I'm afraid it does seem to be spelt that way) going on about how badly-done-by he thinks he is. "I've paid my debt", he sniffed (taking the onion out of his pocket), but qualifies this by adding the killer conditional, "if I was wrong." (emphasis mine), and using words such as "mistake" to cover a catalogue of extended criminality.

Where this unabashed wretch completely loses it, however, is where he compares his 'ordeal' prior to his trial to being in the United States' torture camp on the northern coast of Cuba:

"Before I went to prison I felt I could almost have been in Guantanamo Bay because I was having such a hard time.

"I think people need to realise the stress and strains, which are worse than prison, of all the previous bits."

Yes, that's right Paulie baby; you were dressed up in an orange jump suit, made to assume all sorts of embarrassing, stressful and painful postures, routinely subjected to what the Yanks (unforgivably) call 'enhanced interrogation techniques' and left in a complete legal limbo for eight years or more. Of course, we understand you now, milord; how you suffered!

Don't blaspheme, you arrogant, dunderheaded git! You had at your disposal all the rights which come from living in a (mostly) civilised country; you no doubt had the benefit of the best shysters you could buy; and you probably thought you could depend on your title impressing the judge at your trial (and it worked to some extent - you got a substantially shorter sentence than Taylor did, despite the fact that you were an even bigger crook).

How dare you compare your experiences with the victims of American legal exceptionalism!

And yet you, too, Mr White, will return to the scene of your crimes, won't you? Your suspension will run out even sooner than Taylor's, and then you will regain your power to pass laws which will put thousands of people - most of whom will not have your immense advantages of wealth and status - in prison, and for terms far longer than anything you have had to endure, and with consequences far more damaging than the comparatively minor inconvenience you have undergone.

You too claim that you want to assist the debate on penal reform. Very well, but my message to you is the same as that to John Taylor; do it discreetly and without drawing further attention to your poor self. Start by telling your boss - you know, the one who does Prime Minister impressions - and his colleagues to stop urging our feral judiciary to further depths of vindictiveness; to stop ramping up the rhetoric of revenge at the behest of the terminally ignorant (and their readers); and to stop destroying the life chances of thousands of young people every year in an attempt to "crack down" on something-or-other or to "send a message".

And, if you both want to make a truly valuable contribution, you should have the decency never to set foot in the legislature again, and to renounce your politically-given peerages. Otherwise, no-one will take anything you say seriously, and quite bloody right, too!

And a last message to the BBC: will you now publish sympathetic interviews with Frank Fernie? Or with Charlie Gilmour and Ed Woollard when they're released? Or, as with the appalling Andy Coulson, do 'second chances' only apply to those who - as the French put it - avoir le piston?